Nov 25, 2022
by Karl Smith
New York’s “Fashion Act” Just Received a Powerful Boost
by Karl Smith
Nov 25, 2022

Having first been announced earlier this year, New York State’s “Fashion Act” was designed to hold the industry to account. Or, at least, partially to account. And, also, the companies themselves would get to have a say in which part, exactly, that would be.

If all of this sounds somewhat vague, well, that’s because it is. And, if it sounds a little unambitious – the proposed legislation would have demanded any fashion business generating over $100 million USD in revenue to map 50% of its supply chain and disclose information like greenhouse gas emissions, water and chemical usage – well, that’s probably not too far off the mark either. And then, of course, there’s the fact it wasn’t signed off before the legislative period closed anyway, rendering the whole thing moot.

Or so you might have been forgiven for thinking, anyway.

In fact, the Fashion Act – or, to use its full name the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act S7428/A8352 – is back with a vengeance. Armed with a widened coalition of stakeholders – which now includes names such as Patagonia and Reformation, alongside labor unions Local 1102 RWDSU and Workers United – and equipped with amendments put forward with a view to strengthening the proposed legislation in line with the goals of its supporters: to “tackle the unchecked global apparel industry.”

In terms of its broader philosophy and intention, the bolstered Act avoids creating “duplicate standards that would lead to more reporting and less action,” in favour of something more tangible and with a harder-hitting effect: legislation that actually pushes for change, “building upon existing best in class initiatives including: Science Based Targets, Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and the mandatory due diligence framework that the OECD originated, which is being applied in global legislation.”

The new and improved Fashion Act “requires companies to reduce their climate impact in line with the Paris Agreement… utilizes the Science Based Target initiative methodology and goes beyond it by requiring companies integrate direct data capture to ensure that the focus remains on action within the companies own supply chains,” no longer doubling up on standards so much as effectively doubling down.

In its new form, the Fashion Act also picks up some loose threads on labor and the human cost of bad business practices within the industry as a part of its heavyweight Due Diligence section. “[N]egative labor outcomes, including low wages and dangerous working conditions endemic to the industry, are born not just from bad actors in the supply chain, but crucially also from the fashion brands’ drive to reduce costs and speed up turnaround,” new text for the Act explains. And, with this in mind, “requires companies… to incentivize improved supplier performance by embedding responsible purchase practices.” A requirement backed up with the knowledge that, [i]f companies are found to not be performing this effectively, the Attorney General can fine these companies up to 2% of global revenue.”

With this more labor-focused element, which likely has much to do with the freshly-garnered support of various New York State unions and their leadership, the Act ensure that “[g]arment workers are further protected by joint and several liability,” meaning that, “they will be able to bring a legal claim directly to the fashion companies for any lost wages.” A move which effectively acknowledges the workers’ lack of fault and the fashion industry’s culpability.

The Act’s supporting coalition is bringing in the big guns, basically. Which might seem like a lot of firepower, given that climate action which did get passed in the midterms failed to cover the fashion industry in any real or specific way, but that’s precisely the point. With terms like these, and support on this kind of level, the Fashion Act becomes impossibly to ignore.

Of course, whether the legislation gets passed this time around or not is another thing entirely. But the message is clear: the industry cannot go on this way, and proponents of the Fashion Act can go on for as long as they need to.